Images the Brooklyn Public Library doesn’t want you to see

Images the Brooklyn Public Library doesn’t want you to see
Amy Greer

The Brooklyn Public Library censored a politically charged art exhibit inspired by Atlantic Yards, free-speech advocates charged this week.

The show, entitled “Footprints: Portrait of a Brooklyn Neighborhood,” portrays the condemned 22-acre area where Atlantic Yards is slated to be built, capturing those who live and work there on the eve of the land’s condemnation.

The show mostly consists of documentary-style depictions, but several hot-button pieces, ranging from a neutral portrait of a high-profile Yards opponent to a depiction of Ratner’s arena as a toilet bowl, were eliminated.

The portrait of Yards opponent Daniel Goldstein showed the activist staring calmly at the viewer — and its creator thinks it was cut not because the image itself was too hot to handle, but merely because of the political baggage Goldstein carries in the fight against Yards developer Ratner.

“It is clear that they are trying to keep controversial pieces out,” said artist Sarah Sagarin. “It was upsetting for me because I painted a portrait of a person, not a symbol. I did that to show the humanity below the politics and they have made it political.”

Donald O’Finn’s painting of Atlantic Yards as a toilet bowl was certainly political. O’Finn, a bartender at Freddy’s, the Prospect Heights nightspot that has become Ground Zero in the anti-Yards fight, will hang his painting, along with others that were cut, next week at the bar.

A library spokeswoman declined to speak about specific pieces of work that were removed.

“We worked closely with the curators of the ‘Footprints’ exhibit to select the pieces that best represent the theme of this exhibition,” said spokeswoman Ruth Wagner, mentioning the limit on space for the installation.

The library had said from the start that it would not include the entire installation. It never explained why certain works would be eliminated — though opponents focused on one fact last week: Ratner has reportedly been talking to the library about funding a proposed arts branch near the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Wagner did not deny that the show’s perceived political message was an issue for the library, which decided to install the work at the Central branch on Grand Army Plaza after it ran in its entirety at a Prospect Heights gallery last year.

“Our interest in this exhibition is in documentation, not advocacy,” Wagner said.

But a free-speech advocate slammed the library.

“They removed artwork from the show because of the views expressed in them,” charged Svetlana Mintcheva, director of the arts program at National Coalition against Censorship. “That is censorship and an error of judgment for an institution that has gone to bat so many times in the past for the public’s right for exposure to such critical ideas.”

“Footprints: Portrait of a Brooklyn Neighborhood” will be on display in the lobby of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza until April 21. Call (718) 230-2100 for information.

“Salon des Refusés de las Bibliotheque de Brooklyn” will open Thursday, Feb. 22 at Freddy’s Bar & Backroom (485 Dean St., between Sixth and Carlton avenues).

This is one of the images edited out from a Brooklyn Public Library show about the neighborhood around Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards development.
Donald O’Finn